2011-02-18 Australia appeals to Sweden over Assange

Paul Stephens, Australian ambassador to Sweden, last week formally requested assurances from Swedish Justice Minister Beatrice Ask concerning the treatment of Julian Assange under Swedish law.

In a letter written on the day of final arguments in Assange's extradition hearing last Friday,

Stephens explained that Assange "has been detained in his absence" by a Swedish court on suspicions of having committed "a criminal offence".

"I wish to convey the Australian Government's expectation that, should Mr. Assange be brought into Swedish jurisdiction, his case would proceed in accordance with due process and the provisions prescribed under Swedish law," the Australian ambassador.

He emphasised as well that he expected Assange's case to adhere to "applicable European and international laws, including relevant human rights norms."

There are several reasonable concerns detectable in Stephens' letter. The purpose of the European arrest warrant (EAW) issued by prosecutor Marianne Ny was not fully clarified by Clare Montgomery QC's arguments last week on behalf of the Crown Prosecution Service -- for instance, whether Assange has already been charged in Sweden, or whether upon extradition to Sweden he would be incarcerated indefinitely even if not charged, merely for purposes of questioning.

Also last week, the Swedish prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, made apparently prejudicial statements about Assange's case, characterizing current defence arguments for him as "condescending" to Sweden and affirming that Sweden does not take women's rights lightly. Reinfeldt's blunder has become one of the factors UK courts will have to weigh in responding to the current EAW.

Both Reinfeldt and prosecutor Ny have responded in the past to questions about Assange's extradition from Sweden to the US, questions which both should have dismissed as hypothetical but did not. If some discussion about US intentions towards Assange may be considered speculation or gossip, it is none the less remarkable that both prosecutor Ny and the prime minister would have been briefed on the subject and would have discussed it as they did.

A spokesperson for the Swedish justice minister has responded to Ambassador Stephens' letter:

"The minister of justice is not involved in the trial, nor did she ask for the arrest warrant that has been submitted by the Swedish prosecutors ... She can't give any comment on it, but I can confirm that the letter has arrived. We can't comment on the ongoing process. She is forbidden by the Swedish constitution to have any influence on the ongoing case."

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